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Bellator’s yo-yo diet of ratings on MTV2 is both a blessing & a curse

By Zach Arnold | April 20, 2011

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We’re not usually half-glass full kind of people, so I was trying to come up with a positive angle in relation to the news that last weekend’s Bellator event on MTV2 drew 132,000 viewers (by far their lowest ratings output this year). Surprisingly, it actually didn’t take me long to come up with the spin.

The positive angle: We should all be thankful that not many fans witnessed one of the worst scorecards by an judge in modern MMA history. Sure, Joe Warren was trending negatively on Twitter after he ‘won’ but anything these days can trend on Twitter.

(Like Rebecca Black.)

When you get past the spin, last weekend’s event for Bellator turned out to be a setback. Joe Warren, who is one of my favorite fighters to watch, was outclassed by Marcos Galvao and yet not one single judge saw it that way. Plus, the event was outdoors in near 100-degree Yuma, Arizona heat with fighters working in a cage with a black canvas mat.

On Monday, I wrote an article bringing up a point that Bellator color man Jimmy Smith proposed — the idea of putting judges on television right after they score a fight to articulate why they scored a fight the way they did. The reader reaction on here and on social media to the concept has been universally negative. However, count me personally in Jimmy’s corner on this suggestion. I keep hearing feedback that judges are already somehow accountable and that they have to explain their decisions to athletic commissioners any ways. Plus, we shouldn’t want to hear from judges because they will come off as geeks (like Doug Crosby) and make things look worse.

To me, those are the kinds of reasons that just enforce my support for Jimmy Smith’s idea of having judges explain decisions (both in boxing & MMA) right after a fight is scored. If you can’t articulate your viewpoint in a credible manner after scoring a fight, you shouldn’t be doing the job in the first place. I want to see as much exposure as possible for judges whose opinions and scorecards determine the financial livelihood of fighters. After all, taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill for the salaries of judges and officials. If referees can be put on the hot seat after a fight, then judges should as well. The more transparency and accountability there is for the people in charge of scoring fights, the more we can make progress in at least addressing the major issues the sport is facing with all of the questionable decisions being rendered. The idea that the status quo should continue is absurd. Look at the current policies in place on how to handle officiating in the major American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.) The speech police fine anyone who criticizes an official for making a bad call. “We’re sorry” notes from leagues are given to teams after obviously blown calls. Rather than getting the job done right, it’s more about covering up tracks. Public confidence in the officiating & judging of the major sports is at an all-time low. So, why shouldn’t there be an aggressive policy of transparency & accountability in a sports as dependent on judging as MMA?

Michael David Smith did us all a big favor when he interviewed Chuck Wolfe, the judge who scored the Joe Warren/Marcos Galvao fight 30-27 in favor of Warren. It was an embarrassing decision made by someone who was paid to be a professional. MDS gave the judge all the public comment he wanted to and we got to hear exactly what the judge was and is currently thinking. He said some incredibly asinine statements in the mold of ‘don’t leave it up to the judges’ and that Marcos Galvao should ‘look at himself in the mirror’ as to why he didn’t win a fight. You may think these are the stupidest remarks in the world and should be hidden, but I think they’re some of the dumbest remarks in the world and should be publicized. Let’s have guys like Chuck Wolfe and Doug Crosby put a face and a voice to the decisions currently being made that determine whether fighters are winners or are on the unemployed line after fights. If it takes some public scrutiny to change the current mindset, let’s encourage it. Let the chips fall where they may.

After the horrible decision by the judges working the Bellator show last Saturday night, even Bjorn Rebney (Bellator CEO) was taken aback.

“30-27 made absolutely, positively no sense to me, whatsoever,” he exclaimed in an interview on Tuesday with Mauro Ranallo. “I mean, I don’t know, you know, look… human beings are human beings and sometimes they make mistakes and I think this is a very clear example of somebody making a very substantial and serious mistake.”

Don’t get me wrong. Bjorn Rebney dodged a big bullet here when Warren was given the decision because, for all intents and purposes, this should have been a loss for a champion who was booked in a non-title fight. With that said, even Mr. Rebney knows what the score is and has booked Mr. Galvao for a future Bellator tournament series. As for where things stand in regards to what to do about bad judging and the current 10-point must system (where judges like Chuck Wolfe don’t want to give 10-10 rounds)…

“We have to set up a system where (judges) are (accountable). I mean, there’s no question when you get a guy that watches a fight like that and scores all three rounds for Joe Warren… I love Joe Warren, I think he’s a tremendous fighter. But there’s no possible way he won all three rounds. He won the third, he lost the second in convincing fashion, and then you can debate back-and-forth on the first. But there’s got to be accountability. There’s got to be accountability because there’s too much at stake. These guys work too hard. Whether it’s Marcos Galvao or Patricio Pitbull or Joe Warren, they work too hard, put in too much effort to have somebody who, on that given night, doesn’t have the competency to judge the fight judge the fight and we’ve got to, as a group, I mean there aren’t a lot of us out there any more. There’s the UFC and Bellator, but we’re got to figure out a way and a means by which we can work with state commissions and tribal commissions to make sure that that stops.”

Judges having private meetings with athletic commissioners after scoring bouts isn’t proving to be too effective at the moment. Mr. Rebney tried to take the diplomatic approach in regards to whether or not the commissions & judges are accessible enough to the public to defend the decisions they make.

“(Commissioners are) human beings and the judges are human beings, they’re accessible and they’ll talk to you. (Wolfe) had an opinion relative to the fight. Now, none of us may agree with him, myself included. But they are accessible. They don’t try to hide behind a big black cloth and say, you know, I’m not going to talk to anybody. But we’ve got to take steps to improve it because that doesn’t make sense to me. What I did is everything that I could do. I said to a guy who we don’t have under long-term agreement in Marcos, I said, look, I will put you in the next tournament.”

A big danger to the rash of bad decisions is that many casual fans believe that the promotions control the judges and who works what fight as opposed to athletic commissioners.

“It’s just a misnomer in our sport. They’re either tribal commissions or they’re state-run organizations. It would be much like saying that I control the Department of Motor Vehicles. I mean, they’re a state organization and I don’t control them and neither does Bellator, neither does Strikeforce, enither does the UFC. It’s outside of our control, but it is a system that needs to be improved.”

Putting aside the awful judging by Chuck Wolfe on Saturday night, the promotion did not have a good weekend. The atmosphere for the show in Yuma, Arizona was distracting on television and I’m sure it was not a walk in the park for the fighters. A lot of the shows are taking place at casinos where site fees are paid out. Given the low rating for last Saturday’s telecast on MTV2, Mr. Rebney defended his business plan and said that there is a method to his (business) madness.

“The reality is that we’ve got certain numbers we need to hit. The reason that Bellator FC is still in business and is now a cash-flow break-even company is because we’re very, very concerned with the bottom line whereas Elite XC & the IFL & Bodog & Affliction and many others weren’t and spent money like drunken sailors, we haven’t. So, we’ve got to cover certain numbers to be able to provide fighters an opportunity to make $100,000 over three months and to put on the shows we do. So, some of the venue decisions we make are based on site fees, they’re based on our ability to get a certain amount of compensation for bringing our event and that national television exposure on MTV2 to that site and we’re doing it and we’re doing it really effectively. We’re at a cash-flow break-even position, which is something that only one other major group in the history of the world has been able to accomplish and that’s the UFC. So, I’m comfortable with where we are on the number sides of it. The bottom line is this — I’m never happy with the ratings, doesn’t matter if the ratings were a 1.2, a 1.7, or a 25 share, I’m always going to think we can do better. So, that’s my job is to make sure that the shows keep getting better, that the promotions are better, that the marketing is better, that the fights are better and the fans will come. As I’ve said many times, this is a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve got a three-year deal with one of the most powerful networks on the face of the Earth, so we’ve got to keep taking the right steps forward and the numbers are going to increase because we’re putting on incredible fights, there’s unbelievable Bellator moments every single week, and fans will find it and the numbers will grow.”

He forgot about PRIDE, which was making an estimated $50 million USD/year during the salad days before the organization imploded due to its yakuza scandal with Shukan Gendai.

As for the wild yo-yo ratings performance for Bellator on MTV2, a lot of it has to do with the demographic the channel draws. UFC draws the best demographic in the business with the 18-34 year olds who have disposable income, are willing to spend it, and pony up for big events. Bellator’s demographic are teenagers and pre-teens, a demo that might casually watch MMA but not get emotionally invested into it. Therefore, you get these wild ratings swings when any MMA or non-MMA sports programming is on TV. HBO drew huge numbers (1.5 million viewers) for Andre Berto vs. Victor Ortiz. There was the Juan Manuel Lopez/Orlando Salido fight from Puerto Rico on Showtime. The NBA & NHL playoffs are in full swing. The fact is that MTV2 is, so far, proving to be a significantly worse platform for Bellator than Fox Sports Net/Comcast Sportsnet (even with all of the delayed broadcasts).

The only hope, and I mean only hope, long-term for Bellator is if UFC’s business relationship with Spike TV splinters and Spike decides to make the switch. Outside of that happening, I don’t know where the growth is going to be coming from in regards to viewership of Bellator shows on MTV2. None of this is to say that I dislike Bellator’s television shows. I like watching the promotion very much. However, something dramatic needs to happen for the promotion to have any chance of long-term survival.

Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

13 Responses to “Bellator’s yo-yo diet of ratings on MTV2 is both a blessing & a curse”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1) So Galvao gets robbed of a decision and now he has to fight 3 more times to get a shot at the champion that he should have beaten on the scorecards? How is that fair?

    2) Zach said: “and I’m sure it was not a walk in the park for the fighters.” I’m sure it WAS a walk in the park. They had to walk through the park in order to get to the cage in order to compete… lol

    3) Rebney keeps on saying: “cash flow break even”. Which means they aren’t making money. If they were making a PROFIT, he would be saying so.

    4) “The only hope, and I mean only hope, long-term for Bellator is if UFC’s business relationship with Spike TV splinters and Spike decides to make the switch.” It has always been my opinion and a few others that Bellator is only around right now just in case the UFC leaves SpikeTV and they will be the backup plan.

    Even if the UFC wants to leave SpikeTV, they will likely find someway to block Bellator from going on there. Whether that be making the parent compan a financial offer…. Or throwing enough of a bone at SpikeTV to keep them partially on.

    And unless Zuffa can get on FX, TBS, TNT, or a channel of that level, the option to leave SpikeTV won’t be there. mmalogic made a comment recently that the UFC is going to be asking for a lot of money when the contract comes up. Potentially more then SpikeTV can afford. So it should be interesting…. I’m not sure the UFC is worth as much as White & Fertitta think. It’s a niche with a great demographic, but still a niche….

    5) HBO Free Weekend preview was on many cable providers this weekend. I got to see the boxing fights and Game of Thrones (which is awesome by the way and a guaranteed Blu ray purchase for me when it comes out). So that probably skewed the numbers up….

    • Cory says:

      If Galvao wins the tournament, he’ll fight Makovsky, not Warren. Theres a good chance he’ll end up rematching Warren in the tournament, though.

    • Steve4192 says:

      “the UFC is going to be asking for a lot of money when the contract comes up. Potentially more then SpikeTV can afford”

      That would be a grave error.

      IMO, a large part of the UFC’s success is the saturation bombing of UFC programming on SpikeTV. No other network would be willing to devote such a large percentage of their schedule to UFC programming. No other network is so inept at creating original shows that they need 40 hours a week of UFC programming to fill the gaps.

    • The Gaijin says:

      3) Rebney keeps on saying: “cash flow break even”. Which means they aren’t making money. If they were making a PROFIT, he would be saying so.

      Yeah, this is kind of a B.S. term. Basically he’s saying we’re able to cover our current operating costs so that they don’t shutter the place right now, but we’ll need something long-term because we’ll need financing(s) to cover our fixed costs or any increased future costs.

      So fiscally they’re furiously treading water with their head underneath the surface, breathing through a straw.

  2. fd says:

    To be clear, I’m not AGAINST the idea of having judges explain their scores. I just don’t believe it will actually accomplish anything.

    Judges are appointed by the athletic commission, who are themselves appointed by state governors. The judges don’t care about public opinion because the only people that can fire them are the commission members, and the commission members only care about public opinion inasmuch as it becomes strong enough to make the governor care about it – and let’s face it, on the priority list of things state governors care about, public opinion of their athletic commission appointees is very, very low.

    Read Kizer’s interviews after the Nam Phan/Leonard Garcia fight and it’s pretty clear that public opinion means very little to him as regards judges; he pretty much shrugs it off.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Never put too much emphasis on Kizer’s public comments. He might think the same in private. He probably doesn’t. His job is to keep the issues down so people keep on coming to Vegas and so the money keeps coming in. Even if he completely disagrees with something and is working on fixing it in the background, he is never going to admit it in public.

    • Steve4192 says:

      I’m against the idea because it would make for awful television.

      I’m all for bloggers chasing them down and getting their reasons on the record after the fact (like was done in this case), but actually wasting air-time on it? Screw that. I’d rather see another prelim, or another Saw commercial.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Bellator is done for. Their fights are not as good as what the UFC puts on, their “champions” would be mid-tier talent in the UFC at best, and their ratings pale in comparison to what the UFC puts on. They are not 1/10th as well managed and branded like the UFC is, and they are going to be just another name in the long list of companies that tried to cut a piece of the UFC pie for themselves and starved themselves to death as a result.

    The sooner Bellator, DREAM, K-1, and the other JMMA orgs fold, the better the sport of MMA will be as a whole.

    The UFC IS the sport, and there is absolutely, positively no denying that, and to be frank, if it is NOT the UFC, then it DOES NOT MATTER.

  4. Steve4192 says:

    I’m not a big fan of Luke Thomas, but that title is fucking brilliant.

  5. KSV says:

    I’m all for getting them on TV.

    Government employees are rarely ever held accountable for their actions (or lack of). And when they’re are, it’s even more rare that the penalties equal a just payment for their failure.

  6. […] I wrote a detailed post about Bellator’s yo-yo diet of ratings on MTV2. I closed out the article with this: The only hope, and I mean only hope, long-term for Bellator is […]

  7. Stel says:

    #1 Warren should just fight 5 round fights, he takes a couple rounds just to get going. = No more 3 round non title fights for champions.

    #2 I think that each judge should have 2 assistants one scores striking the other scoring grappling and positional control(with two stop watches) while the main judge watches the entire fight scoring for aggression and octagon control. My reasoning is that while there are thousands of audience eyes watching every second of fights the judges only have two eyes and they have to look away from the fight to score it thereby missing aspects of the fight.= More judges interacting after each round instead of one judge all alone with his thoughts.

    #3 The scoring system itself needs a complete overhaul in order to make it easier for the FIGHTERS to understand what they need to do in order to win. = fighters will make more attempts to end the fight, rather than relying on octagon control.

    Epilogue…

    I designed a unique score card in the shape of a bulls-eye target scoring like a dart board. Each fighter has one dart board per round to fill in.

    Bulls-eye 1 target clear catch or solid knock down.

    Second ring has 4 spaces and 4 targets…
    damage, subs, take downs, striking combinations.
    If one fighter scores a knock down for 1 point the other fighter can even it up by hitting all four items in the second ring.

    Third ring has 8 spaces with 4 targets,each target is divided into two spaces…
    aggression, superior positions, control, and reversals.
    Hitting one of these will break a tie in the first 2 rings.
    Third ring requires a timer in order to time the amount of control or superior position.

    I’ve tried it a few times and it seems to work well. By just filling in the areas, when the round is done you compare how much of the circle is blacked out and there’s your winner.
    I did notice that while I was looking down to fill in a fighters space I would miss the other fighters counter and would need to rewind to score whatever it might have been.
    Hence the need for 3 judges per score card, 9 judges total.

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